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Santa Claus rescued -- Sony kills torture-themed ad campaign 

Suzanne Vranica  
Sony Electronics, a US subsidiary of Japan's Sony Corp, has killed a newly created advertising campaign for its e-commerce site after at least one cable network refused to air some of the spots.

Commercials promoting SonyStyle.com (www.sonystyle.com), the Website that sells home audio-and-video gear as well as music and movies, were slated to begin this week in time for the all-important holiday selling season. The campaign was expected to appear on such cable networks as Viacom's MTV; Walt Disney's ESPN; and the Discovery Channel, a unit of Discovery Communications Inc.

In a series of six commercials, kidnappers play a series of cruel games with a blindfolded Santa Claus. In one spot the captors play tackle football with the defenseless Santa; in another effort they use Santa as a driving range target in a golf game. The text read: "We have Santa. Shop at SonyStyle.com or there will be no X-Mas." The ads are reminiscent of the dark 1996 movie comedy, "Fargo," directed by Mr Joel Coen.

Sony's ad agency Young & Rubicam, a unit of London-based WPP Group, has two weeks to develop a new campaign. "We thought the work was appropriate for the target base, but at the same time we stand by Sony's decision," said Ms Liz Reilly, a spokeswoman for Y&R.

Ms Grace Ann Arnold, a spokeswoman for Sony Electronics, said that for the next two weeks it will run ads for its flat-screen Wega television sets and its Vaio computer in place of the SonyStyle.com work. Both commercials have been amended to include the SonyStyle.com tagline. New SonyStyle.com ads will have a holiday theme but will not include the abducted Santa.

Ms Arnold said that after receiving some feedback, the company grew "concerned that consumers might misinterpret the edginess and irreverence Of the campaign and may even be offended."

Sony couldn't provide the name of the cable network that refused to air the work, but an executive with knowledge of the situation said the specific commercial rejected by the network featured Santa being chloroformed and dumped into the trunk of a car.

"We recognised as we were working on the campaign that the concept was edgy, but we chose to follow through with it based on the media buy strategy," said Ms Arnold. The commercials were expected to run during programming geared towards mature adults. She noted Sony wasn't surprised by the reaction generated by the campaign. "The reaction affirmed the reservations it had internally," she said.

Recently the major TV networks have yanked several commercials they found objectionable. Several months ago, General Electric's NBC pulled a Nike commercial after receiving more than 2,000 complaints. The commercial, a parody of the horror film "Friday the 13th," showed a masked man with a chainsaw chasing a woman. Although she outran him, some viewers complained about the commercial's violent imagery.

And in June, Viacom's CBS rejected a commercial from sneaker maker Reebok International that was expected to run during its hit show "Survivor."A second Reebok spot had to be re-edited before it was approved by CBS's review board. The edited spot showed two young men hiking in the woods, one of whom was suddenly bitten by a poisonous snake. The unscathed hiker suggests sucking the venom out of his friend's leg. As he sucks on his friend's leg, a female jogger runs by and appears to mistake the action for a sexual act.

The Wall Street Journal

Copyright © 2000 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

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